Busking Permits in Charleston

Here’s what I know of the permit process in Charlestown, S.C. after going down to the business licensing deparment and talking with Mary Jamison about the paperwork.

Charleston Permits (as of October 2011)


come on, be a peddler with me

To be a street performance in Charleston you apply for a peddlers permit.

FIRST you have to get a background check. That’s a $25 money order (per person), a recent photo, your information (ss #, birthdate, etc) sent by mail to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

After that you pay $7 to file the application.

The actual fee for peddling is based on your estimated earnings. The city takes a percentage of that. Ms. Jamison refused to give us a full estimate, only saying that there were different scales depending on whether you lived in Charleston or out (I would think that the in Charleston is a cheaper rate). She also informed me that there is such a thing as an itenerant permit, which would tax you on estimated income for only a couple of months (?).

The only estimate she did give was to say that it’s $64 for your first $2,000 and then they take that unidentified percentage of what you estimate over $2,000.

I believe the $64 dollar quote I got was for the itenerant permit rate.

Total Cost for the Permit?

With the cost of background check and the cost of the application, I’m guessing a permit would be around $100 for a single performer.

If you wanted to perform two people and didn’t want to get another permit, around $125 (becuase of the second background check). One person applies for a peddler’s permit, the second person gets a notorized letter saying he is an employee of the first.         

The permit comes with rules and regulations, such as the hours of 8am to 8pm and restricted areas (which also seem to be the best areas to play). However, as far as I can tell, the cops don’t care/know about these rules and only care if you have a permit.

If you plan to play WITHOUT a permit, do it quick, know that you will be shut down. It worked for us and it worked for our fiddler friend Roy, but the cops do strictly enforced permit.


That’s an expensive permit! And even worse, the uncertainty of the actual fee you pay is a ridiculous

In comparison, a permit for Cambridge (which is a busking hot spot) costs $40 and apparently is an easy application. Salem costs $5 and they don’t make you pay until you get a permit, but then again Salem is not the most desireable performing spot unless you live there.  Key West costs $100, but it’s a one time fee/year and you know what you pay. Northampton, MA gives you a permit for $40/year, again a one-time fee.

I couldn’t find the actual cost of the permit for New York.

So, Charleston, trying to discourage street performance?

The problem is they don’t have a busker license. Selling merchandise isn’t exactly the same as performing, even though both are dependent on luck, weather, whims of the people, time of year, holidays, etc.  

Besides, street performance is often a traveling art.

My Charleston Experience:

not my picture of charleston

picture of charleston stolen from a road biker's blog: sirbikesalot.com

East Cackalacky was shut down twice: once within 10 minutes outside of the Market and once within 30 minutes on King Street.

The cops threatened us with “a $1,000 ticket”, but they were cordial and did nothing but tell us we had to stop. The second cop even let us play a last song saying, “do what you want, but I’ll be coming around in an hour.”

See, nice if you’re nice. And nice if you’re white.

This is damn frustrating because Charleston has the potential to be an excellent busking city (tour Ships, centralized downtown, easy to walk around, large party district, college town feel). The permit process discouraged at least 2 other would be buskers that I met (a circus performer and a violinist), and caused rumors such as “you can’t perform as an ensemble here!” (thanks guy in the bar), and the general feeling that, ‘our street musicians suck’ (what we heard from most people who tipped us).

Beaurocracy kills the music

do not enteri’m not expressing my opinion

I’m sorry I’m going to step out of my professional ranting for a moment and say, SUCK MY DICK! you boring beaurocratice bulshit city officials! Do you want to have street performance in your city or not? Have you ever been to New York/Boston?

Street musicians add to the environment.

When we played in front of the Market in Charleston, all the vendors invited us back, people were smiling and watching, a bartender bought us drinks, and the tourist took photos. And how are we a problem?

Yeah, I know, the city just wants their cut. But it’s a harsh cut for a street musician. Busking is a fickle art and it’s almost impossible to know your income.

For example, in D.C. we made $300 in two days. But in Raleigh we made only $90 over the weekend.

 Personally, I think somebody should go see Charleston about having them set up a busker permit.

Or maybe not because, as guy in a bar #2 told me, Charleston is like New Orleans with a giant stick up its ass.

me and Leon

One of the vendors even gave me the gift of a nose! Thanks Leon!

Whatever, it’s the city’s loss. Usually having street musicians draws people to a certain area and gives more business to the other vendors/restaurants/bars in the area. in Portland, ME the street vendors used to tip us. Why? They knew we were attracting attention and causing people to linger near their booths.

Worse is, we want to get a permit. But it’s $50 to begin the process. And we have no idea how long it will take for the state to do their background check.

We can’t afford to hang around the city waiting.

Yeah some governments necessary. But doesn’t beuarocracy make life miserable!

RED TAPE. RED TAPE. RED TAPE. I see that little finger wagging.


4 thoughts on “Busking Permits in Charleston

  1. Read your steps on obtaining a busking permit, but wanted to clear up a few things (I have the peddler’s permit).

    The background check is 25 dollars, but you can now do it online….in fact, it seems to be the only way to do it. Once you submit that, along with the ‘mug shot’ and other information and application, to the 3rd floor at 75 Calhoun, they fax it to the local police department for additional screenings. It takes 2 days to do. There is also the 7 dollar fee you talked about.

    Then, once you go back 2 days later, there is an application to fill out a home business permit. It is a pretty short form that took about a minute. Then they ask your estimated income.

    If you think it will be $2000, it is actually $34.12, not 64…..after that, though, I do not recall the fee.

    The total time it took to fill out all the forms was about 5 minutes, but the wait of standing in line and getting notification of the police department approving me was about 3 days.

    Hope that helps!

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